A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir

A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir

by Lev Golinkin
A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir

A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir

by Lev Golinkin


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A compelling memoir—"hilarious and heartbreaking" (The New York Times)—of two intertwined journeys: a Jewish refugee family in Ukraine fleeing persecution and a young man seeking to reclaim a shattered past

In the twilight of the Cold War (the late 1980s), nine-year old Lev Golinkin and his family cross the Soviet border, leaving Ukraine with only ten suitcases, $600, and the vague promise of help awaiting in Vienna. Years later, Lev, now an American adult, sets out to retrace his family's long trek, locate the strangers who fought for his freedom, and in the process, gain a future by understanding his past.

This is the vivid, darkly comic, and poignant story of Lev Golinkin in the confusing and often chilling final decade of the Soviet Union, and "of a Jewish family’s escape from oppression ... whose drama, hope and heartache Mr. Golinkin captures brilliantly” (The New York Times). It's also the story of Lev Golinkin as an American man who finally confronts his buried past by returning to Austria and Eastern Europe to track down the strangers who made his escape possible ... and say thank you.

Written with biting, acerbic wit and emotional honesty in the vein of Gary Shteyngart, Jonathan Safran Foer, and David Bezmozgis, Golinkin's search for personal identity set against the relentless currents of history is more than a memoir—it's a portrait of a lost era. This is a thrilling tale of escape and survival, a deeply personal look at the life of a Jewish child caught in the last gasp of the Soviet Union, and a provocative investigation into the power of hatred and the search for belonging. Lev Golinkin achieves an amazing feat—and it marks the debut of a fiercely intelligent, defiant, and unforgettable new voice.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345806338
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/13/2015
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 266,752
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 5.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Lev Golinkin is the author of A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka.  Mr. Golinkin, a graduate of Boston College, came to the US as a child refugee from the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkov (now called Kharkiv) in 1990.  His op-eds and essays on the Ukraine crisis have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and Time.com, among others; he has been interviewed by WSJ Live and HuffPost Live.

Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Prologue 1

Part 1

The Best Parades in the Whole Damn World 7

The Black Witch Comes to Kharkov 18

Oleg and the Mirror 27

Disarming the Adversaries 31

A Marked Mikhail Will Destroy Russia 38

Something Was Different; Something Was in the Air 48

Land of Endless Twilight 53

$130, Two Suitcases, One Piece of Jewelry, Nothing of Value 63

Into the Steppe 79

Part 2

Dozens of Sentinel Grandmas 103

Where People Have No Names 121

The Forester 131

Waking the Nomads 144

Pennies and Peach Slices 149

A Layover in Purgatory 161

Eva 168

A Bleak, Man-Made Horizon 173

Nineteen Million in the Hole 179

The Bosnians Don't Come Out at Night 183

A Simple Request 190

Part 3

This Ain't Ellis Island 201

Refugee Sponsorship for Dummies 208

Where Else Does She Belong? 214

Unfinished Business, Part I: Getting to America 222

Where the Weak Are Killed and Eaten 230

There Are No Cats in America 242

Where Am I and Why Do I Smell Like Bananas? 249

Unfinished Business, Part II: Staying in America 263

Alicia 269

One Man, One Jacket 275

Kilcoyne 281

Epilogue 295

Acknowledgments 305

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